The Second Amendment Foundation kicked off the annual Gun Rights Policy Conference on Saturday in Chicago, marking the 33rd gathering for gun rights groups to discuss policy agendas.
Joe Tartaro, President of the Second Amendment Foundation, opened the event by sharing this year’s theme, “The Fight for Freedom.”
“The fight for freedom is an ideological war and political war — a war for the hearts and minds of men, women and children,” Tartaro told the crowd.
Tartaro detailed how each decade has fought its own battle against “anti-freedom” politicians and feelings. Pointedly calling out politicians like Dianne Feinstein and Bill Clinton, Tartaro condemned anti-gun politicians for actively seeking to remove rights from American citizens.
“The anti-gun crowd is always coming up with deceitful strategies,” he said. “They’ve locked out the elderly … most recently they have tried to change the age to own a gun for law abiding citizens who can legally vote.”
Moving into the retailers sphere, Tartaro attacked Dick’s Sporting Goods and other retailers who have sought to place restrictions on who can purchase firearms, ammunition and gear as well as what gear can be purchased.
“They’re imposing their own rules as to who can buy what guns and ammunition and at what age,” he argued, emphatically.
Closing his speech, Tartaro encouraged gun owners to fight for what is rightfully theirs. “A free people fight back by any means at their disposal. As long as we fight freedom we will have it.” Let’s close ranks now and fight for freedom,” he said.
Alan Gottlieb took the stage after Tartaro to discuss the threats the gun world faces. “Things have changed in the gun rights battle since the Florida shooting. We’re facing a whole new way of fighting for gun rights,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb immediately went after the Bloomberg group citing how the organization has planned to destroy gun rights by throwing money behind anti-gun legislation, candidates and organizations. Supporting Democratic state attorney generals, Gottlieb said politicians are using their platform to attack individual gun rights.
“They attack the NRA and insurance companies as well as financial institutions. They’ve filed lawsuits against Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation by denying the First and Second Amendments,” he said.
Calling out Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gottlieb said Emmanuel’s city is evidence that stricter gun laws don’t work as they infringe law abiding gun owners rights. “Nearly 50 years after politicians enacted laws, parts of Chicago remain a shooting belt. They blame law abiding gun owners for gang related shootings,” Gottliebb said.
The SAF powerhouse didn’t just go after Democrats, however, Gottlieb also gave equal time and blame to Republican politicians who he blamed for “cold feet” and inaction resulting in a back slide in gun rights.
“The Republican party itself is partly to blame,” he said. “After Trump’s election gun owners expected quick and decisive action but it didn’t happen because Republicans got cold feet and decided to put policies on the back burner.”
Gottlieb also used attacks on federal agencies to showcase how politicians are seeking to cripple gun owners. Using the Environmental Protection Agency as an example, Gottlieb explained gun owners suffer punishments like hiked taxes and limitations on ammunition as well as bans on lead, limiting gun ranges and shooting activities.
In addition to attacks on the political front, Gottlieb gun owners also face attacks internally. Citing lazy and complacent gun owners, Gottlieb also called out internet commandos who deter new gun owners from entering the Second Amendment Fight. “Internet keyboard commandos chase off people who we need in our battle,” Gottlieb said. “We’re attacking ourselves.”
Closing out his speech, Gottlieb urged gun owners to stop complacency and join the fight to preserve gun rights. “Complacency is a threat to gun owners. Complacent gun owners think the fight is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Executive director of Gun Owners of America, Erich Pratt, delivered remarks for the Federal Affairs Briefing in which he described 2018’s activities on gun rights as “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” a reference to the famous Clint Eastward western.
For the good, he praised gun rights activists for preventing gun control legislation following multiple mass shootings. “Stopping these bans is a very very very good thing,” he said.
He also praised Republicans passing a national reciprocity bill, which would allow concealed carry permit holders to carry across state lines, in the House of Representatives. Out of that, he said his organization identified a “hero,” Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan for leading 25 other Republicans to advance the bill. He said GOA will support him as speaker to replace current House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, who will retire at the end of this year’s session.
For the bad, Pratt also slammed “spineless” Republicans in the Senate for failing to pass the national reciprocity bill and for federal lawmakers advancing red flag laws, which are designed to keep potentially dangerous individuals from obtaining firearms. He said such laws could be easily abused.
For the ugly, he warned of bump stock bans and the passing of Fix NICS legislation. Last year, President Trump directed federal regulators to re-write interpretations to effectively ban bump stocks, a device that allows a rifle to mimic full auto fire. The device became a subject of debate after a it was used to murder 58 people and injure some 850 others by a single gunman in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017.
Although the Fix NICS bill largely directed more funding to the federal background check system and had the support of mainstream gun rights organizations, Pratt said the legislation will allow the system to have “a lot more innocence being denied gun rights.”
Kicking off the first session of the State Legislative Affairs Briefing, speakers went after specific legislation that aims to prevent gun owners from exercising their “legal rights.” Starting in New York and expanding out to California, attendees were informed of specific legislation hampering gun owners in restrictive states.
John Cushman, president of the Sportsmen’s Association for Firearms Education, said 243 bills on firearms issues are currently up for debate with most expected to pass in his state of New York.
Cushman said though New York politics may not seem like an issue for gun owners in other states, what passes on the local level has a chance of moving to the Senate level and influencing other states’ laws as well as federal legislation. In his speech, Cushman applauded the work of the NRA and their Eddie Eagle program which has helped push back acts like the Safe Storage Act
“Call the NRA. (The Eddie Eagle Program) is free. It’s good,” Cushman said. “Get it in the hands of teachers. They need to know there are alternative methods.”
Ending his speech, Cushman encouraged the crowd to, “Think positive. Get out there. We will and we can win.”
While Cushman covered New York legislation, Craig DeLuz, of CalGuns Foundation, offered details on the plight of Californians. Behind what he termed “enemy lines,” DeLuz called California anti-gun politicians tyrannical for attacking civilians civil rights in order to rid the state of guns.
“They’re going after other civil rights, if it’s affiliated with the Second Amendment,” DeLuz said. “Free speech — the government shuts down truthful, legal, non-violent speech because they don’t like it.”
Ending his speech on a high note, DeLuz pushed gun owners to stand up against perceived oppression.
“The people will get tired. The people will say we can no longer allow you to violate our rights. We don’t have just a right we have a responsibility to stand up to our government when it becomes tyrannical.”
SAAMI executive director Rick Patterson argued that “we have the facts on our side” in reference to the debate about guns and gun rights.
Patterson’s organization, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, uses “science” and “facts” to prepare standards for the gun industry, he said. In contrast, he argued the anti-gun side uses “feelings.”
He used recent bans of lead ammunition as an example of facts. The material has been banned in places like California under claims that the lead has poisoned condors, but he argued that lead levels remain unchanged since the ban.
“We can’t let issues get ahead of us. Facts take time to sink in. Anti-gun groups use raw emotion,” Patterson said, suggesting anti-gun advocates were able to convince the public that lead ammo had poisoned the native birds without knowing for sure.
“We have to stick to the facts. We have the facts on our side. We have to educate ourselves and take our message forward. We have a great story to tell,” he said.
Parkland was a theme in the second legislative affairs briefing mid-morning. Stepping up to bat first was Sean Caranna, founder and co-executive director of FloridaCarry, who said his home state of Florida become the new battleground for state’s rights after Parkland. Addressing the crowd, Caranna emphasized how the political climate has changed since the school shooting in February, pushing his organization to fight harder for Floridian’s gun rights.
“I never thought we’d need this organization,” he said. “But horrible bills have passed since Parkland. Everything was looking up until a madman opened fire, now we all have to pay.”
Caranna laid out the provisions that are actively working against Florida gun owners. Legislation such as red flag laws and mental health reform that limits gun ownership or removes it from segments of the population have been pushed through the state by surprising gun control advocates. Anti-gun Republicans have recently been crossing traditional party lines to form an alliance with groups like Everytown to limit gun rights.
“Can’t just look at red or blue to decide who to vote for. We have to readjust to a new paradigm where we have pro gun Democrats and anti-gun Republicans,” Caranna explained.
Caranna was quick to point out that, in the case of Parkland, the failure was not on gun owners but on law enforcement officials who did not adequately investigate reports against the shooter; therefore, gun owners should not pay the penalty. Though Florida gun advocates agree that mental health reform is needed to prevent senseless shootings, Caranna said the key is to educate mental health providers in addition to providing due process for legal owners as well as those who have sought help and reformed.
Caranna said the battle in Florida is just now beginning and he expects it to continue with Everytown and Moms Demand pushing for change.
Jim Wallace, executive director of Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, took the mic to push the issue of Parkland and its failures on the mental health and law enforcement levels. Pointing the finger at the Parkland anti-gun protestors, Wallace said the teens leading the march against guns should be focusing efforts on mental health reform at the Congressional level as opposed to innocent gun owners.
“That kid should not have been walking the street, let alone have access to a gun,” he explained. “We don’t want crazy people with guns. We want to protect kids from crazy people with guns.”
Whizzing into the conference from North Carolina, Paul Valone, of GrassRoots North Carolina, focused his speech around gun laws that aim to restrict ownership and carry during states of emergency.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, Valone said that at least five cities have sought to remove citizens’ rights to carry and protect their families and property. These ordnances come after a lawsuit between GrassRoots NC and the state over previous State of Emergency Bans.
Valone’s organization won that battle ultimately repealing the ability of the government to limit rights post-catastrophe. “We beat them soundly to repeal the ban,” Valone said. “We want to continue this string of successes.”
GrassRoots NC has since contacted the cities involved in the latest bought of restrictions forcing each municipality to drop the local ordnances against firearm carry post-Florence.
So far, Valone said looting has been minimal in the cities impacted by Florence pointing to residents ability to protect themselves and their homes as evidence to how guns positively impact communities.
A panel of speakers discussing how “culture drives gun politics” focused their suggestions on recognizing problems with polarizing the issue, which often repel other demographics from adopting pro-gun viewpoints.
“Let’s start influencing culture outside of this room. One way to do that is by influencing culture inside this room,” said Rob Pincus, a popular shooting instructor and business owner. He argued too often the debate is framed with an us versus them attitude.
Liberal Gun Club spokeswoman Lara Smith advised gun rights advocates to not speak disparagingly about democrats or liberals with the all encompassing “they” and instead frame the conversation as defending a “civil right.”
“Bringing people in on a positive note is how we grow our world,” Smith said and suggested the best way to do that was taking liberals to the range.
Gene Hoffman, co-founder and chairman of The Calguns Foundation, shared seldom talked about history regarding conservatives and pro-gun history.
“I want to challenge you a little bit about the way you think about guns. The most important civil rights activity with firearms in California was done by the Black Panthers and the grandfather everyone loves in the GOP is the man who banned carry in California and his name was Ronald Regan,” Hoffman said.
Making his point, he circled back to more recent issues that mirror that historic event. “Our world has lost some opportunities,” Hoffman said.
“We had an excellent opportunity with Black Lives Matter said no to Everytown and no to mommies. The BLM said very rightly to them that every gun control law you passed targeting a fat white guy in New Hampshire lands squarely on a young black man in Philadelphia,” he continued.
“We also lost an opportunity with Philando Castile,” he said. Castile was a black motorist who was gunned down by a Minneapolis-area police officer as he reached for his concealed carry permit.
“That was a perfectly legal concealed carrier who was harmed by a off-based police officer. We should have been there defending him,” Hoffman said.
Guns.com staff writers Jacki Billings and Daniel Terrill contributed to this report